“Selected Poems of Emanuel Xavier” by Emanuel Xavier— Reviewing a Friend

Xavier, Emanuel. “Selected Poems of Emanuel Xavier”, Queermojo, 2021.

Reviewing a Friend

Amos Lassen

I first met Emanuel Xavier in person some 14 years ago at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. I was already familiar with his poetry and I loved it so meeting him was a highlight of that weekend. We became friends immediately this making it difficult for me to be objective about what he writes but I soon found no need to let how I personally felt about the man influence his poems. Each and every poem, in his “Selected poems of Emanuel Xavier” is a gem and I as I sat rereading many that I had either read before or heard him read made me realize just how important he is, not only to the LGBTQ community but to the larger world of literature.

Xavier came to us after being homeless and a victim of a hate crime and was soon recognized as both important and controversial. His poems fill the reader with inspiration and give us a sense of power. Seeing one of our own become so respected is very special yet he has never lost where he came from. Here he brings us 28 of his poems that are personal, political and social. He shares what he went through as a gay Latino in a world that was often homophobic. We cannot help but feel the pin he suffered and rejoice at his success. He had been sexually abused in childhood, grew up in a one bedroom apartment with his mother and her boyfriend. He came out as a teenager during the AIDS epidemic and soon found himself living on the streets. Returning home, he was not allowed to discuss his sexuality and had to lead a life filled with secrets. It was not until later that he found gay New York along with the drugs that were part of it. Working at a gay bookstore, he had the chance to meet people, including gay writers and was introduced to the works of those who frequented the store and discovering that much of what he read was a reflection of his own life. Discovering a community of people pf color, he became a “pier queen” and began to put his thoughts into words. The rest of this you can read in the preface to the book. I wanted to emphasize what he came out and for us to be ready to see what that background brought to us. Through the collected poems here, we follow Xavier’s journey and we feel his pain and rejoice in his successes. In the very first poem, Xavier sets an unexpected tone for what is to follow, “We will keep on smiling, from the dancefloor, and we will keep on smiling from the bar…”.

I am so pleased that we have “Deliverance” here in all of his brutal honest verse. I remember my reaction when I first heard Xavier read this and then my reaction when I read it at home my myself. It was then that he became a literary and personal hero of mine.

“Where were you when I was three

Getting fucked up the ass by older cousin…”

“After all I am still your son

I am still your little boy

Aren’t I?

Daddy?”

You can clearly see how personal this poem is as it reflects the poet’s journey but we see something else in this collection. In sharing his voice, Xavier also lets rise the voices of those we do not often see or hear, those who have been cast aside by society. Desire and compassion merge as we read and we find ourselves checking our inner feelings. At the same time, the past, the present and the future merge within us just as the poet moves from the poetry of anger and rage to the poetry of wisdom. It seems that Xavier does not know the meaning of the word fear as he writes about our community of the queer, the transgendered, those who do not fit into what the American Dream came to represent. That dream is for all of us as we see in the final book, “Beside Myself”. “Yes worry. Your time has come and gone…”.But we can resurrect that time and make sure that our community is one for all of us especially after reading what it has cost us. Let Xavier’s prophetic voice guide you are you read and reconsider who you are by looking at the truths of the poet’s life. We immediately feel that humanity exists and it is ours to claim.